After 16 Years, Feds Finally Have the Technology to Read Passport RFID Chips

The U.S. required countries to embed RFID chips in passports back in 2006. Now, U.S. Border Control can finally read them.

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Photo: Konrad Musial / EyeEm (Getty Images)

If you ever imagine the government as this all-seeing entity tracking you with all sorts of high-tech futuristic tools, this story should help you relax a bit: The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) is finally able to read a tiny piece of technology that’s been embedded in passports for the last 16 years.

E-Passport chips cryptographically store all personally identifying data in an easily readable chip that is nearly impossible to tamper with or produce fraudulently. The U.S. requires Visa Waiver countries — countries where citizens are able to visit the U.S. for 90 days without a waiver — to include these chips in their passports. But, until this past June, CBP had no way to read them, according to Wired:

CBP says that so far the validation process has checked more than 3 million passports from Visa Waiver program travelers and has “contributed” to the arrest of 12 people who were allegedly attempting to enter the US with “fraudulent” identification.

“During primary processing, the e-Passport technology alerted on the documents, and the travelers were referred to secondary where CBP officers determined that the travelers were in possession of fraudulent travel documents,” the agency says in a statement.

“Upgrading passport security is a commonsense way to ensure people entering our country are who they say they are. It is already making America safer, without resorting to invasive searches or massive databases of private data,” Wyden says in a statement to WIRED. “I commend CBP for following through and ensuring forgers and criminals can’t use fraudulent passports to skate through security at the border.”


How many fraudulent passports were able to slip into the U.S. during those 16 years of feet-dragging of course remains unknown. CBP says it has already caught a dozen possibly fraudulent passports in the eight months that the feds have been able to read the damn things. But not from the tiny nation of Andorra, population 80,000, whose passports remains unreadable to U.S. border agents.